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Walmart Seeks Sustainability through AI-Backed Packaging Solutions

Published June 6, 2023
Published June 6, 2023

The beauty industry has been working towards becoming greener and more sustainable for several years. In every stage of a product's journey, sustainability is becoming a priority—from seeking cleaner ingredient alternatives to product labeling systems, recycling initiatives, and campaigns bringing to light the impact of consumerism on the planet; the efforts to make a productive impact are evident. While these activations are sure to contribute towards a positive change, a significant issue remains regarding the packaging products are shipped in and how they are shipped, with 85% of consumers believing businesses use far more packaging than required. For big-name businesses such as Walmart, which has an e-commerce sales value of $53.4 billion for 2023 so far, such a large number of orders has the potential to lead to a copious amount of waste. After reporting a 27% increase in e-commerce, the retailer has cracked down on reducing waste, announcing a series of changes to its online order shipping process.

The first change being made relates directly to the type of packaging Walmart orders are shipped in. Before the announcement, orders shipped from Walmart fulfillment centers, stores, and marketplaces were packaged in plastic mailers. Going forward, all Walmart orders will arrive in recycled paper bags, which will result in the elimination of over 65 million plastic mailers and 2,000 tons of plastic from US circulation by the end of the year. Consumers nationwide will also be given the choice to opt out of single-use plastic bags for their online "click and collect" orders, with Walmart reporting that trial phases of this step have already seen increasing promising adoption rates.

"Our commitment to regeneration is core to who we are and how we innovate at Walmart. Customers have told us how excited they are about these enhancements to make it easier for them to make more sustainable choices that support the planet and the next generation," says Karisa Sprague, Senior Vice President of Fulfillment Network Operations, Walmart US.

To tackle the issue of packaging sizing, Walmart is also reducing the amount of cardboard used to ship its online orders. This is being done through the use of right-sized packing technology across half of the retailer's fulfillment network. The technology works to create a package that is custom fit to consumers' orders as opposed to having a set range of shipping box sizes. It is predicted that by eliminating unused space in shipping boxes, the need for protective filler is reduced by 60%, reducing waste caused by oversized boxes by 26%. Consumers will also be given the option to request consolidation of multiple items into fewer boxes, decreasing not only the amount of waste but also the number of shipments.

The retailer is set to further make use of technology by adopting AI to identify when an item purchased online can be picked and packaged from local stores instead of fulfillment centers. This process will see Walmart combine multiple orders on single delivery routes using electric vans, leaning on its 4,700 nationwide stores as fulfillment centers. This step will not only contribute to much faster and more efficient deliveries, it will also significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, working towards Walmart's goal to achieve zero emissions by 2040.

"With a Walmart store located within 10 miles of 90% of the US population, we can make a meaningful difference for our customers by strategically using our stores and last mile delivery network to reduce waste and emissions," adds Jennifer McKeehan, Senior Vice President of End-to-End Delivery at Walmart US.  "I'm proud of the efforts we've made and will continue to make as we keep regeneration at the forefront of delivery."

The changes made by Walmart are sure to work in the retailer's favor, helping consumers to reduce their impact on the environment when shopping, all while receiving a more efficient and fast-paced delivery service. The adoption of AI to help with this endeavor further showcases the technology's power to transform not only a business practice but also the entirety of the consumer journey. As AI usage continues to grow, with some deeming the technology to be a necessity in order for business to thrive, it can be argued that what once was looked on as a threat, can lead towards more sustainable outcomes when used correctly. Other large retailers will hopefully follow suit, creating more opportunities as the industry continues to strive for sustainability.


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